Monday,19 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Monday,19 February, 2018
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Electoral impasse

The practice of steamrolling controversial legislation through the Shura Council returns to haunt President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Holding parliamentary elections has become a complex issue. On 18 February the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) judged 10 articles in the Shura Council approved draft laws regulating the ballot unconstitutional.
The SCC’s judgement throws a massive spanner in the works. The Shura Council met on Tuesday to debate the SCC ruling and amend the laws. “This must be completed in one week, before 23 February,” said Mohamed Mohieddin, appointed Shura Council member and a representative of the Ghad Al-Thawra (the Revolution’s Tomorrow) Party.
Mohieddin pointed out that “Article 229 of the new constitution states that procedures for parliamentary elections must begin within 60 days of the ratification of the new constitution”, noting that “the new constitution was officially ratified by President Morsi on 25 December, meaning that the 60-day period will come to an end on 23 February.”
There are serious doubts that the Shura Council will be able to meet the 60-day deadline. The draft legislation in question — amendments of Law 38/1972 on the People’s Assembly and Law 73/1956 on the exercise of political rights — were approved by the Shura Council on 19 January and referred to the SCC the next day. Council members had hoped the SCC would review them within two weeks at most, allowing enough time for them to be amended and then referred to the president for final ratification according to schedule.
Shura Council Chairman Ahmed Fahmi, who reviewed the SCC’s findings on the two election laws in a plenary session on Tuesday, referred them to the council’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee for discussion on the same day.
The SCC found the two laws violated several constitutional articles. It objected to the political disenfranchisement of parliamentary deputies from ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s now defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), noting that “while Article 232 of the constitution states that leading officials of the NDP and deputies of that party in the two houses of parliament elected before the 25 January Revolution in 2011 (in 2005 and 2010) must be barred from pursuing political activities — including running in parliamentary and presidential elections — for 10 years, the two laws state that NDP deputies who were members of either, rather than both, of the two pre-revolution houses of parliament must be stripped of their political rights.”
“As most NDP officials were deputies in one of the two pre-revolution houses and not of both, the majority of them will be legally and constitutionally allowed to compete in the coming elections,” says prominent lawyer Shawki Al-Sayed.
Shura Council appointee Gamal Gibril accused Muslim Brotherhood deputies on the council of responsibility for the farce because they rammed the two election laws through the council without allowing any time for serious discussion.
More significantly, the SCC has ruled that Egypt’s electoral map must be in accordance with Article 113 of the new constitution. “Electoral districts must not be re-drawn in an arbitrary fashion and the Shura Council must take the public interest into account when determining these districts,” said the court. During the debate Muslim Brotherhood MPs rejected changing the law regulating the boundaries of electoral districts on grounds that it would take too much time. Civil forces, however, cried foul, saying that the law was biased because it arbitrarily sets district boundaries regardless of population density.
The SCC’s judgement also makes it difficult for anyone who failed to perform military service for security reasons under the former regime to run in elections. The court also ruled that two laws granting Egyptian diplomats — rather than judges — the right to supervise and monitor expatriate voting ran counter to Article 238 of the constitution which states that all the constitutional declarations that previously enshrined this right had been revoked.
The SCC’s report left Shura Council MPs divided. The Muslim Brotherhood want the two election laws amended in accordance with the SCC’s findings, but without referring them back to the court for final revision. Non-Islamist MPs, however, insist that once amended the two laws must be sent back to the court. Deputy Chairman of the SCC Maher Sami warned that “if the council fails to amend the two laws in accordance with the SCC’s findings they could be ruled unconstitutional again.”
Alongside problems besetting the election laws came the dashing of hopes that national dialogue between Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and the National Salvation Front (NSF) — a coalition of liberal and leftist forces led by ex-UN diplomat Mohamed Al-Baradei — would end the country’s month-long cycle of violence and pave the way for the parliamentary ballot.
A meeting between Al-Baradei and Saad Al-Katatni, chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) on 17 February, ended in deadlock. NSF officials stressed on Tuesday that five conditions must be met before joining any national dialogue with Morsi. They include the replacement of the government of Hisham Kandil with a politically neutral one entrusted with organising parliamentary elections, the appointment of a new prosecutor-general and amending the constitution and election laws. According to informed sources, Al-Baradei threatened that the NSF would boycott parliamentary elections if its demands were rejected by President Morsi. Political activist Ayman Nour said on Monday that during his meeting with Morsi last week he proposed that elections be delayed for one year to allow for the emergence of some political consensus and a degree of economic stability. The proposal was rejected by Morsi who is against any delay in parliamentary elections or the forming of a “national unity” government.
In the meantime, the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies is deteriorating. Leading officials of the Salafist Nour Party launched a scathing attack on Morsi and the Brotherhood on Monday, taking them to task for pushing Egypt into “a dark tunnel”. Khaled Alameddin, a leading Nour official who was dismissed as Morsi’s environmental adviser, said “the president is working in isolation of state authorities and his advisers are just merely a décor and dolls.”
Bassem Al-Zarka, another leading Nour official and a member of the Shura Council, resigned as Morsi’s adviser for political affairs in protest against “the president’s dictatorial practices”.
Political analysts agree that the Nour Party has lately become a thorn in the Muslim Brotherhood’s side. It has joined forces with the NSF in demanding that parliamentary elections must be proceeded by the appointment of a national unity government and the replacement of Morsi appointee Talaat Abdallah as prosecutor-general.  
“It is completely unfair to hold parliamentary elections while the government is dominated by one faction — the Muslim Brotherhood,” said the Nour spokesman Nader Bakkar.
Morsi’s relationship with Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has also soured in recent days. On Monday rumours circulated that Al-Sisi was about to be fired. Morsi was quick to deny them, but not before reports had emerged that the military top brass had warned the president they would not allow Al-Sisi to be dismissed in the way former interior minister Ahmed Gamaleddin was sacked for opposing the turning of the police forces into a Brotherhood tool for combating anti-Morsi protests. One private newspaper reported that “the army is in complete solidarity with Al-Sisi and if he is sacked they will refuse to impose order during the upcoming parliamentary elections.”
The three Canal cities of Suez, Ismailia and Port Said were hit by civilian disobedience this week. Port Said citizens in particular blame Morsi for the excessive use of force to quell protests on 26 January. If Morsi fails to successfully contain the anger of Port Said’s residents it seems almost impossible that parliamentary elections can be held in the town.

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